Cape Town – The “Mitchell Johnson” game ... that’s the only
time South Africa have ever been beaten under orthodox circumstances in a Test
match at SuperSport Park.
Their record is otherwise outstanding at the
spectator-friendly Centurion venue, suggesting there is hope yet that the
Proteas can put their nine-match sequence without a victory behind them and
triumph in the dead-rubber final clash with England from Friday.
The national side has actually lost twice in 20 games at the
ground (though they boast as many as 15 wins) since its maiden hosting of a
Test in November 1995.
But the first such instance
has been discredited in the minds of many purists: it was the contrived result
on day five of the similarly final Test against England, after three whole days
in the middle had been lost to the elements, in January 2000.
On that now infamous occasion, and with the series already
in the bag by South Africa, charismatic bookmaker Marlon Aronstam convinced
(the later exposed) Hansie Cronje to accept R500,000 for a charity of his
choice and a leather jacket in exchange for persuading rival captain Nasser
Hussain to make a game of it rather than plod out the expected humdrum draw.
Both sides effectively forfeited one innings, and in a
“limited-overs” type of scenario, the English chased down a target of 249 to
prevail by two wickets.
So you could say the only conventional loss the Proteas have
suffered at SuperSport Park was two Tests back at the ground, in the first of
three clashes with the Aussies in February 2014.
It will be remembered primarily for the pitch rather
unfortunately playing into the visitors’ hands – and more specifically their
bang-it-in thunderbolt Johnson – as it was characterised by near-dangerous
uneven bounce instead of seaming off a fuller length which would have been more
to the fancy of the home attack.
Left-arm spearhead Johnson grabbed respective figures of 7/68
and 5/59 on that occasion, and engineered some nasty body blows into the
bargain as the Baggy Greens went 1-0 up and eventually bagged the series 2-1.
Otherwise, though, Centurion has almost always been a very
productive place for the SA Test team – as evidenced by as many as eight of
their 15 victories being achieved by an innings.
All of the last six Proteas wins there have been completed in
that fashion, including last season’s thrashing (innings and 220 runs) of West
Indies, when Hashim Amla made 208 and AB de Villiers 152 in the lone required
SA knock of 550-plus.
Interestingly, though, England are one of few teams not to
have to feel too daunted by the venue: they have not yet lost in four Centurion
Tests, including involvement in all three Proteas draws at the ground.
On their last visit, on the 2009/10 tour, they clung on for
a stalemate when, having been set a challenging 364 to win by Graeme Smith,
Paul Collingwood and last man Graham Onions stuck together for a vital 20
minutes in the evening shadows to lead them to safety on 228 for nine.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing